Cooperative Research Units
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Evaluating sediment and nutrient contributions from unpaved forest roads to headwater streams


August 2016 - September 2019


Unpaved forest roads remain a pervasive disturbance on public lands and mitigating sediment from road networks remains a priority for management agencies. Restoring roaded landscapes is becoming increasingly important for many native coldwater fishes that disproportionately rely on public lands for persistence. However, effectively targeting restoration opportunities requires a comprehensive understanding of the effects of roads across different ecosystems (Al-Chokhachy et al. 2016).

The Southwestern Crown of the Continent is an area of over 6,070 km2 in western Montana (SWCC). Within the SWCC over 1,200 km of roads are currently being considered for restoration by the US Forest Service. A recent study in the SWCC indicated considerable variability in sediment production from roads. Specifically, recent findings suggest considerable variability in sediment production across road segments and relatively low sediment production from the majority of roads in the SWCC. However, there remains relatively high suspended sediment within streams and high nutrients in local lacustrine environments rendering some uncertainty in how sediment from roads may be affecting aquatic ecosystems. Furthermore, there remains additional uncertainty in how road use and the interactions with precipitation may lead to sediment and nutrient pulses. As activities in the SWCC increase in the near future, there is a unique opportunity to evaluate how such increases in travel (and likely sediment production) alter our current understanding of the importance of roads and road restoration in the SWCC and elsewhere.

Here we proposes to conduct an in-depth field study in the SWCC to monitor and refine our understanding of how roads and sediment delivery from increased use (and other activities and disturbances) influences sediment and water quality in aquatic habitat. The project will specifically build off of existing data to establish a set of ‘treatment’ and ‘control‘ sampling locations for (1) suspended sediment and nutrient and (2) streambed sediment data collection. Furthermore, this study will capitalize on existing data from the SWCC to effectively design a suspended sediment study that complements existing data.


Current Staff

Federal Staff: 101

Masters Students: 239

Phd Students: 154

Post Docs: 55

University Staff: 241

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 695

Scientific Publications: 1962

Presentations: 4417



Funding Agencies

  • Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
  • US Forest Service


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey